CLIFTON — It isn’t the wolf at the door that has residents of Arizona and New Mexico worried, rather it’s the federal government.
The program to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf into portions of the desert Southwest of the United States was the focus of a legislative hearing hosted by state Representatives David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, and David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, and state Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, at the Greenlee County Board of Supervisors meeting room Saturday.
“The (Founding Fathers) believed in local government. This is local government and we’re going to do our darnedest to protect your livelihoods,” Gowan said. “It’s appalling to see this, and it’s our own government that did this.”
Almost 50 residents and elected officials of Greenlee, Graham and Apache counties in Arizona and Catron County, N.M., were on hand to offer input on the issue. Also taking part was Larry Voyles, director of Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Almost everyone in attendance was opposed to expansion of the wolf reintroduction program, citing attacks on ranch animals and reduced deer and elk populations for hunting since the program began in 1998.
“It’s an experimental program; how long does an experiment have to go? It’s been 15 years. The debate should be: Are we going to continue this experiment?” said Jeff Menges, who ranches in Graham and Greenlee counties.
The current program calls for a threshold of “no less than” 100 Mexican gray wolves to be in the wilds of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently tracks 75 wolves via collars, but Pascal Berlioux, executive director of the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization, said it’s likely the number of wolves in the wild could be 120 to 125.
“The Mexican wolf will eat 10 pounds of meat per day, and even a pack won’t eat all the edible meat of an elk. Taking into account that about 70 percent of an elk has edible meat, 100 wolves would need 1 million tons of live elk on the hoof. That’s about 1,500 to 2,500 elk each year, not counting cattle or other animals the wolves might attack,” Berlioux said.
Voyles explained that U.S. Fish and Wildlife has no current plans to hold a public scoping meeting in Arizona. Meetings are scheduled for Albuquerque, N.M., Sacramento, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Denver.
“Maybe that’s where we should release these wolves, in Washington and Sacramento,” Gail Griffin said.
That prompted members of the audience — including Greenlee County Supervisors Ron Campbell and Robert Corbell, Catron County Commissioners Van “Bucky” Allred and Glyn Griffin, and Apache County Supervisor Barry Weller — to praise the three Arizona legislators for holding the hearing in Clifton.
Darcy Ely spoke on behalf of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, saying the “trust has totally been taken down” between residents and the federal government over the program.
“We believe the states need to be in charge of the program,” Ely said, while Campbell said it’s the goal of Greenlee County “to end the program” and has been at the forefront of the issue for more than two decades.
“At times, we felt like the little boy who cried wolf,” Campbell said. “The environmental groups are working together on this (but) the opposition has not. We need to come together.”
A number of speakers — including Gowan — questioned the constitutionality of federal authority when it comes to the recovery program, saying they believe states have the right to reject the program under the 10th Amendment, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Only one speaker — Susan Breen, of Clifton — didn’t express a negative opinion of the wolf reintroduction program. She called herself “an outsider” on the issue and didn’t offer an opinion on the issue; instead, she was critical of the legislators’ recent votes in opposition to expansion of Medicaid.
Gail Griffin said the comments from the hearing, as well as comments from other hearings held throughout southeastern Arizona, would form the basis of a resolution of opposition to the wolf program that she, Gowan and Stevens would introduce when the Legislature convenes in January.
She also said the three legislators will sign on to comments to the environmental impact study being conducted in conjunction with the reauthorization of the program, saying the program is formed by “flawed science” and “faulty data.”
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife and its supporters should be ashamed,” Gail Griffin said.
A lawmaker’s office can say a lot about the person who inhabits it. David Stevens’ office on the first floor of the House is sparsely decorated, its walls nearly bare and not covered with the various pictures, awards and other items that are commonplace in many offices. He attributes that to the temporary nature of the work he’s doing now. “This is a two-year job,” he says.
But the office isn’t devoid of decoration, and there are a few reminders of what is really important to him: Pictures of his kids on his desk and wall, a miniature baseball bat he got at a Chicago Cubs game as a child and a plaque commemorating the work he did as a Department of Defense contractor in Kuwait. On his desk sits a small trophy with a nine-ball he and eight other House Republicans were given earlier this year as recognition for their successful push to remove funding from a high-tech business development program in January’s budget fix.
Stevens, a Republican from Sierra Vista who is in the middle of his first session at the Capitol, spoke with Arizona Capitol Times on March 8 about life as a lawmaker, how he won his campaign from the other side of the globe and his weekend work fixing up a muscle car.
How’s the session going so far? Is it what you expected when you ran for office?
It’s nothing like what I expected. This is the first time I’ve ever done this type of work. The expectations were unrealistic, because I didn’t really know what to expect. And then we hit the budget (fix for) 2009 right away, and everyone was saying, “Oh, that’s not what’s normal.” Well, to me, this is normal.
What’s been the most surprising thing to you, based on whatever expectations you had compared to the reality?
The interaction of members of the state — lobbyists and special interest groups. They seem to make their presence known. I’m from a rural district and it’s too bad that people from my area can’t get up here more often. It tends to be (mostly) people from the Phoenix area.
And the pace that we work at — there’s a lot of work up to a point, and then it’s, boom-boom-boom. You know, the (fiscal year) 2009 budget we did, we were here until two in the morning, so that was kind of interesting.
I don’t even know what day of the week it is or what date it is. It’s just, oh, it’s the weekend again. Then I go home and meet my constituents for Friday and Saturday. It’s non-stop. I was here until a little after midnight last night, just trying to catch up on e-mails. I’ve got an iPhone, and the thing dings every time an e-mail comes in. It was dinging when I went to sleep and it was dinging when I woke up.
And I’m sure everyone’s telling you that you aren’t even doing much, that this is a slow year. I’m sure you don’t feel that.
No, not at all. I know how the numbers work. The Senate hasn’t heard any (bills), basically, so that’s going to cause an interesting mini-collision once the budget’s done, because we’re waiting for them to hear the bills that we’ve gone through.
It’s going to be a long year. I was hoping to get out early, once the budget’s done, but we still have to hear their bills and they have to hear ours, so it’s going to be another month after the budget’s over.
Last year was your third time running for the Legislature, but your campaign was unique for the fact that you weren’t even in the country.
I spent three weeks here. The timing of that was around my son’s graduation from high school. But I was able to finish up my signatures and (qualify for) Clean Elections in those three weeks. When I wasn’t doing things with the family, I was out campaigning.
That had to present some tremendous challenges. How did you manage to get elected in Arizona while you were in Kuwait?
It did. There were four people who were integral to my campaign. First was my wife. Everything that got mailed, she would either notify me or scan it and e-mail it to me. I’d wake up some days and there’d be 50 scanned letters.
Gail Griffin basically ran the political side for me in Sierra Vista. She’s a former legislator, so she knows what it takes. Between me and her, we’ve run the Cochise County Republican Party for the last six-and-a-half years.
Mary Ann Black was running for the Senate and she would take my literature and read a letter I had written at public debates.
And then Al Murray was there — he was phenomenal. He put up probably 400 or 500 signs. Just one guy. And (Rep. David) Gowan helped him out a lot.
And I had my consultant, Constantin Querard, who was working out of Phoenix doing all the mailers and paid political advertising. He was outstanding. I’d contact him and tell him he had two days to spend $30,000, and it was done. Spending money is not difficult for a consultant.
I actually thought about dropping out of the race. At the time I filed and went (to Kuwait), there were still two incumbents. I knew (Sen.) Marsha Arzberger was termed out. I assumed the two representatives would run for the Senate. Manny (Alvarez) filed for the Senate, so that was one open seat. Then Jennifer (Burns) decided not to run. So, with two open seats and name recognition (from past campaigns), I figured I had a shot. I won by 949 votes, which was close.
And there was a problem with Clean Elections, because you didn’t notify them soon enough that you wouldn’t attend the debate, right?
That was difficult, because I was on the phone about midnight or two o’clock in the morning (in Kuwait) with the lawyers and the judge, and it was like, I’ve got to get up in two hours. We got to do that three times in six days. It was fun.
How did you end up as a Defense Department contractor in Kuwait?
The job I did over there I did at Fort Huachuca for four years. We protected the military Internet, which is called the NIPRNet and SIPRNet. It’s a stand-alone entity for the military. What they’ve decided to do — the government — is connect the NIPRNet to the Internet. So, once you do that, you’ve opened yourself up to a lot of vulnerabilities. As a unit, what we did was we recorded what happened and we tried to prevent future attacks — viruses, worms, that sort of thing — and when we did get hit, we would mitigate the problem. My specific job was that I maintained the database and the software that the analysts used.
The job came open in Kuwait, and by the time I got there, they’d been (without a database administrator) for four months. There’s up to 12 people in the Army who do what I did, so I felt it more than important to go over there and do what I could.
You’re ex-Army, right?
Yeah. I’ve spent three years trying to get back in the military. I’ve finally given up on it. There’s a unit in Phoenix called WIOC, the Western Information Operations Center. Their sole purpose is to support the program where I worked (in Kuwait), so I was uniquely qualified for that unit. I started doing all of the paperwork in February of ’06. The last thing I had to do was go to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), and I was thinking, “I’m in.” I’m a 10-year veteran, I’ve done all this before.
I get there, and the last thing they did was to check my eyes. (The doctor) was like, “Oh, you’
ve had RK (eye surgery)?” I said, “Yeah, is that a problem?” The Army used to do it to their pilots. Well, they don’t do it anymore because it does weaken the eye. It’s been 13 years (since the surgery), but that’s what’s keeping me out. I’ve submitted my paperwork three times to the Army Reserves, and they’ve denied me three times.
It’s been three years. When I first started, I was 44. I thought maybe being in Kuwait would help me get in. That wasn’t my first concern going over there — that was doing the job.
You’re an Eagle Scout and a Boy Scout troop leader with Representative Gowan, right? What do you feel is important about the organization?
Well, unfortunately a lot of kids stop going about the time they get to high school, and that’s the most critical time. It teaches you to be self-reliant, it teaches you to be a leader, if you’re in long enough. I loved it (as a kid) — we did stuff every month. I became a junior assistant Scout master. I enjoy teaching — that’s always a fun thing, especially when they want to learn. It’s made me empathetic to teachers when you have kids who don’t even want to be there.
If you go into the military now, they give Eagle Scouts two stripes. So, if my son were to enlist, he’d be a PFC. I remember when I was in basic training, we had guys who would just cry in the barracks. It was like, what did you think you were joining? And this was ’79 and we were doing nothing. The draft had ended and enlistment was really low. Everything came so easy (to me) because of Scouting.
When was the last time you went back to Wrigley Field to see a game?
It was 1998. We saw Sosa hit number 41 in early August. I had never been in the bleachers, so I took my family out to the bleachers. We were in left field. All of the sudden, (fans in) right field are yelling, “Left field sucks!” So we start yelling back, “Right field sucks!” It was great, but we got sunburned pretty bad.
Just about everyone’s seen the 1969 blue GTO you drive and are still working on restoring. How did that become a hobby?
I got stationed here in Fort Huachuca in 1981, and the first car I bought was up in the Mesa area, and it was a ’69 GTO. I loved that car. But back then, the only parts you could find were in junkyards and nobody made reproduction parts. I spent a lot of time scouring junkyards. But nowadays — the doors are the only sheet metal on that car that’s original.
Is that the same car you bought in ’81?
No, we moved back to Illinois. The car started rusting pretty good. And the wife hated my car because it looked pretty bad. The car was red and it had a brown door with flames on it.
This car has new quarter panels, new fenders, a new hood. The deck lid is original to ’69, but not to that car.
What do you have left to do on it?
I’ve got all the parts, I just have to put it back together. I’m doing it slowly. I’m doing everything under the dash right now. I’ve got the 8-track player for it. The kids are like, “What’s that?” The car came with it originally, so I’m trying to make it as original as I can. I’ve put the factory A/C back in it.
Things were going good about four or five years ago and I found the car, and the wife was like, “Yeah, go ahead, the kids are almost gone.” My son’s helped me on it. He wants me to put a turbocharger on it, but I want it to be factory.
Thanks for your time.
No, thank you.
SAFFORD — Three months later, the manner in which Medicaid was expanded in the state still doesn’t sit well with David Stevens and Gail Griffin.
The two state politicians were in Graham County on Friday, speaking before the Graham County Women’s Republican Club at the Graham County Health Annex and the Graham County Freedom Alliance at the Victory Fellowship Theater.
“We had 647 pages (in the budget bill, which included the Medicaid expansion) dropped on our desks. And they refused to yield to questions. That type of behavior is unacceptable,” said Rep. Stevens, R-Sierra Vista.
Standard process for any bill is to go through committee, for review, input from members of the Legislature and, when approved by the committee chair, input from members of the public.
The bill expanding Medicaid in the state, which was required for the state to participate in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, was pushed directly to the floor for a vote by a bipartisan group of legislators via a suspension of the rules requiring committee hearings.
Part of the act requires states to offer Medicaid to individuals and families with income of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level — $11,170 for an individual, $23,050 for a family of four — including childless adults, who had been previously dropped from Arizona’s rolls during the recession.
Stevens was also circulating a petition that would put the issue of Medicaid expansion to a vote of the people. Proponents of the ballot measure have until Sept. 12 to collect a minimum of 86,405 qualified signatures to place the measure on the 2014 general election ballot.
The duo also talked about other issues, including border security, state spending on education — Sen. Griffin, R-Herford, said about 50 cents of each dollar spent in the state goes to education — and economic development.
“Business is picking up in Maricopa County. Now we need that business to be pushed down to the rural areas,” Griffin said.
They also talked about continued opposition to federal Environmental Protection Agency rules regarding regional haze —and the resulting closure of energy plants in the northeastern part of the state — and opposition to expansion of gray wolf and jaguar habitat.
“Those of us who enjoy living in the rural areas don’t want to lose that choice,” Griffin said. “This is God’s country.”